In the mid-nineteenth century, the Amazon Valley remained a mystery to the outside world. Enormous and unspoiled, it lay rich with possibility. In 1850, the secretary of the U.S. Navy appointed Captain William Lewis Herndon to lead the first American expedition to explore this vast and foreboding region.
Herndon departed Lima, Peru, on May 20, 1851, and arrived at Para, Brazil, nearly a year later, traveling more than four thousand miles by foot, mule, canoe, and small boat. As ordered by Congress, he catalogued his scientific and commercial observations, but he filed his report as a narrative, recounting the beauty of the land and his encounters with natives and animals, which captured the imagination of nineteenth-century America. Herndon described his adventures with such insight, such compassion and wit, and such literary grace that the book quickly became an international best-seller.
One of the great American chronicles of exploration, Herndon’s account is a highly enjoyable read and an intimate portrait of an exotic land before the outside world rushed in.